I’m reading and marking my students’ poetry assignments today. And tomorrow. In hopes of being done before Thanksgiving weekend, when I’m looking forward to hosting family, and cooking up at least one enormous feast.
I was going to treat myself to croissants … or something similar … to help sustain and encourage me through the marking. Instead, I’ve found myself rigidly plunked at the dining-room table with a glass of water as accompaniment. Currently stopping to eat a bowl of leftover soup for lunch. I need to get better at this “treating myself” thing. Instead, I fantasize about croissants magically appearing before me, or husbands delivering sustaining take-out lattes. Lazy. But true.
Back at it. Dreaming on.
Sunday morning soccer, Owen Sound, Ontario
The house is so quiet.
You know when you wish for something and then it arrives and you wonder why you were wishing for it? That’s what this morning feels like, and it’s a taste of the months to come, after the kids return to school: house empty during school hours, just me and the dogs, no one dashing into my office to demand/beg/complain/tattle, no need for ear plugs, no discoveries en route to the bathroom of kitchen disasters and the remains of lunch. Just me.
Interrupted by my own distractions, demands, hunger, anxieties.
This week, one child is at a friend’s cottage. Two are at overnight camp. The fourth is home, but is at a soccer camp during the day.
Here he is at supper last night, playing the part of only child without apparent effort. “I can’t see without my glasses,” he joked. He helped Kevin clean the back porch, which we are finally painting after years of neglect. He was affable, talkative, and snuggly after supper, playing a game with Kevin, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, reading a story with me.
But then it came time for bed. And suddenly the emptiness of the house struck him too. His lonely room, no sister reading by flashlight or humming her “Suzi dog songs” in the bunk overhead. Couldn’t he sleep with me? At the end of the bed? On the floor? Here, or here?
It’s kind of how I feel this morning. I can’t quite settle. After longing for alone time, I miss the mess.
I don’t know how someone so strongly inclined toward solo pursuits got so lucky as to acquire a life filled with chaos, but lucky I am. And oh how I appreciate the gift of disruption in this quiet quiet house. Kevin and I took advantage of having built-in babysitters home on Saturday, and slipped out to see Boyhood. We loved it. It’s the parents who stick with me, complicated, loving, mistaken sometimes, sometimes wise, trying even while they know they’re failing in some profound way, but that’s what we do as parents–try even while we see ourselves being clumsy, repeating mistakes. The scene that haunts me today is the mother crying in her kitchen as her son packs up his room to leave for college. “This is the saddest day of my whole life,” she says (or I remember her saying). “I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know you’d be so happy to be leaving.”
The other piece that sticks with me is how much advice the boy is given by well-meaning adults over the course of his boyhood. And how rarely that advice is what he wants or needs. Yet how compelled the adults are to offer it. Makes me want to hold my advice-giving-tongue and instead listen, ask questions, be around.
* A note on the photos: these are #unedited #cameraphone. My photo computer died last week, and until it returns to life, I am without editing options, or the ability to download pictures from my Nikon. So for the meantime, I’ve exchanged quality for spontaneity. There’s always an upside to the down.
I am posting to you from my new home in Blogland! If all has gone according to plan, the transition has been seamless and you’ll find yourself here even if you’d gone looking for my former address. If I’d moved houses in real life, the same could not be said. This is much easier.
As with all moves, I expect there to be a few glitches as I figure out the plumbing, so to speak. I welcome your comments and thoughts, and hope you’ll feel just as much at home here as you did in the old blog. If you take a look around, you’ll see there’s more space now, rooms upstairs for events listings and news and information about my books, and the pictures are bigger, but the light feels the same to me. And the colours. And the faces. Just look at those faces.
Plus, I’ve brought along ‘most everything from the old place. All posts and photos are here too, going right back to the beginning. You can still subscribe via email, if you don’t already. Recipes and books-I’m-reading-now can be found in “Extras.” Packing up and moving all those boxes was easy too: my brother Cliff did the heavy lifting. (His company 10AM.ca does great work, if you’re considering a digital renovation, redesign, or move.)
So c’mon in. Keep your shoes on, we’re not fussy (even if we’re dressed up in this post; trust me, this is not the new normal). Stay awhile. And please come back and visit again soon. I’m really excited to share the new place with you. (Enough with the extended metaphor! Enough, I said! Okay. Stopping now.)
I seem to be happiest when in motion. I can’t say why this is, but contentment seems to derive from a sense of continuing, a stream of mostly humble activities rolling one in the next into the next, overlapping, flowing always forward and pulling me along.
I’m wary of inertia.
I ward it off with projects and lists, with the demands of parenting, and the urgency of getting to the right place at the right time.
This sense of urgency can make me feel drawn, tense, running on pure adrenalin. Or, oddly, it can make me feel calm, serene, like I’m being swept along rather than having to propel myself. This summer feels like a bit of both, but mostly, I’ve been feeling calm about where I’m at. I’ve been feeling buoyed and buoyant and not overwhelmed, even as I’m whirled from task to task.
Kevin and I accomplished something major on the weekend. We rented a dumpster and cleared eleven years of why-are-we-keeping-this junk from our attic, basement, garage, and many closets and cupboards. We filled it to the top. It felt cathartic and it was a ton of labour, squeezed in around three soccer games on Saturday (only we would think a mere three soccer games on a Saturday is an invitation to rent a dumpster), a long run on Sunday morning (me), and a soccer practice on Sunday evening. The resulting purge of possessions was like preparing for a move, without the necessity of actually moving anywhere.
My conclusion: we should do this at least once a decade. I’ll put it on my to-do list for 2024.
And the things we got rid of. I put anything that looked even moderately appealing out on the curb. We may have a hoarder in our neighbourhood because boy, did items go fast. At one point, I set out a miniature crockpot, then realized it was threatening to rain. “I’ll just bring that up on the porch for now,” thought I, heading back out for the rescue — but it was already gone. Vanished. It felt quite remarkable, like discovering a black hole or something, a vacancy down which to toss all those things that still seemed useful, not junk, but no longer wanted by us. I imagine it, now, somewhere nearby, stuffed into the corners of someone else’s life, while our lives are somehow lightened by the space that’s been cleared.
On the schedule this week …
one child at musical theatre camp, with performances on Friday
one child at horse camp
several soccer practices + four games
one story contest to help judge (done, this morning!)
one book launch party to plan
many kilometres to run (training for the Run for the Toad in October)
one wedding to celebrate (my little sister Edna is getting married! and I get to call her little because she’s twelve and a half years younger than me)
On, on, on we go. Even when I’m really tired, I feel the tidal pull, carrying me along, and I’m glad for it. I’m glad for being at a stage in my career where I’m being invited to participate. You won’t catch me complaining about being too busy. It means: wealth of experiences. It means: my cup runneth over. It means, for me, a constant source of replenishment.
We spent the Easter weekend on the farm where Kevin grew up, and his mom still lives.
We helped her begin to sort through and organize the rooms, the closets, cupboards, drawers, nooks and crannies. This is no small project in a house that’s been home for nearly forty years.
I boxed up books to give away, many of which had been bestsellers at some point in the past four decades, already out of date, out of style; some were too musty even to donate. It was an odd conflation of realities, having just spent several days at the British Library, where I pored over printed texts that were four or five centuries old. By what random chance did those books survive? Nothing I read in the BL would be considered great or lasting literature, though some was popular in its time; survival over the centuries was a matter more of being kept by generations of someones who were not like me, I guess, as my instinct is to purge, rather than to cling to, at least in a general sense.
The work got me thinking about how transitory and brief are our lives on this earth. Consider my files of manuscripts in our attic. I wonder, should I burn them now so as to spare my children having to decide what to do with them, some day? What’s precious, after all?
I come home thinking that what’s precious is today.
But today is also ephemeral, which is why we keep so much, trying to keep what can’t be kept. We’ve all got our means and methods, our junk drawers, our shoeboxes. I say this as an inveterate collector and curator of the daily now, in the form of this blog, knowing that what I’m compelled to do is only fractionally more lasting than the day itself, and then only because it freezes and distorts the complicated layers of each beautiful breath and heart beat into a small, glancing story.
I come home thinking that it’s really really important to pay attention to what you’re pouring your life into. I think: don’t worry about whether or not you’re making things that will last. Don’t worry period, actually. Make and do the things that bring you and those around you some daily sense of being loved and cared for. Be as alive as you want to be, while you’re here.
AppleApple’s last major school project before March break: an original handwritten folk tale
March break started yesterday. The kids celebrated with Minecraft in their pyjamas, a game that they play collaboratively, and that includes everyone, and which therefore I don’t find myself objecting to as stridently as I do to other video games. I also make no comment when Kevin sneaks off to play FIFA14 (a soccer video game) with one kid or another, calling it “soccer practice.” I actually think that “pwning” his opposition in FIFA14 may be helping Albus with his “mad dekes” on the field, in real life. It’s the power of envisioning results. If you can’t imagine it — in specific, calculated detail — it’s never going to happen.
the couch in its new location + airborn son; we call that beanbag chair “the cow”
On our first family outing of March break, we walked uptown to get passport photos taken. Because — newsflash! — I’m flying to London, England next month! (My passport is actually fine, but in digging up everyone’s, I discovered that most of the kids’ had expired.) This trip fulfills a dream to research early print culture, specifically popular culture (i.e. the precursor to the tabloid), in Elizabethan England. Long ago, I wanted to write a doctoral thesis on the subject, but I have the feeling that fiction will be much more fun, and ultimately more in line with my talents and abilities. I studied English Lit through grad school, but have never seen the places imprinted in my imagination by all that reading of English Lit; just like I wanted to see Nicaragua again before trying to write about, I want to see England before trying to write about it (I’ll save the time-travelling for my imagination). There is no guarantee that I’ll find my story, of course, but I know for sure I won’t find it unless I go (see above re power of envisioning.)
different airborn son
I’m going before the spring soccer season starts, and Kevin claims not to be worried at all about managing the house and kids and scheduling madness in my absence, now that he’s home so much more often (and he really is home so much more often, a fact I don’t mention enough, but which has greatly benefitted and altered all of our lives). The timing couldn’t be better: I have friends on sabbatical in London this year, who have offered to feed and shelter me. In fact, Nath has been acting as my unofficial guide, looking up directions to places I want to see, and providing advance tips on using the British Library and getting an Oyster pass so I can use the trains, etc.; plus she says she’ll come with me on my outings and provide me with an umbrella. I keep emailing her questions like: what kind of shoes should I bring? (Don’t we all need someone to whom we can email questions like that? It’s funny how it eases the mind just to have someone to ask.)
I also hope to see another friend, whose family is also in the UK on sabbatical, and meet my UK publisher, Lisa Highton of Two Roads, in person.
And maybe have a jacket potato and some beer.
Fooey playing with matchbox cars, last weekend
Our second stop on yesterday’s family outing was Words Worth, where I bought a pile of bargain books, and AppleApple ordered Black Beauty, and Fooey picked out a guide to making bracelets on her Rainbow Loom (she has been doing nothing else since), and CJ chose a Pokemon guidebook. (Albus was at the library with a friend, as he didn’t need a passport photo). CJ is starting to read, for real. Pokemon guidebooks wouldn’t be my first choice for his reading material, but if he’s the one reading them to himself, I have no objection.
jam cupboard in its new location
We have a list of things we want to do this week, including:
– matinee movie at the Princess
– family party night (tonight!) [note: definition of party supplied entirely by the children]
– make-up piano lesson
– possibly move children’s rooms around
– clean basement / house
– trip to mall
– plan CJ’s birthday party
– family cross-country ski trip
– lamps for living-room
– uke night
– supper at Grandpa’s
– play with friends
– early morning swim with AppleApple
– trip to the Museum to see this exhibit (over strong protest from the very family member we wish to take)
– hot yoga in the living-room
– fix iMac (the computer on which I process photos, which has been crashing with alarming regularity: which is why this blog doesn’t always have up-to-date pics at present)
– transfer all important files to laptop
– exhibition soccer games
– plan Carrie’s trip
We’ve already added a new bookshelf to the living-room and shifted the location of the piano and the couch, and moved the jam cupboard up to our bedroom where it looks so beautiful it almost causes me grief — I think because it seems like hoarding to keep such a beautiful object in such a private space.
“Does it seem like we’re in a constant state of change?” Kevin asked this morning, as AppleApple offered to do a room switch with Albus, who is not enjoying sharing with CJ. To which I could only reply, Yes. We are.
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